Hot Wheels Unleashed review for Xbox Series X, PS5, Switch, PC

Platform: Xbox Series X
Also On: Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Publisher: Milestone
Developer: Milestone
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: Multi
Online: Yes

While you would think the name Hot Wheels would be synonymous with racing games, I actually had a hard time coming up with any real memorable Hot Wheels branded video game experience in recent history, outside of a Forza Horizon expansion from a while ago. I?m sure there have been attempts and entries that I?ve missed, but I can?t imagine that any of those prior attempts are going to hold up all that well when compared to Hot Wheels Unleashed. Launching this week for pretty much every notable platform, this arcade racer brings with it a host of unique tracks, tons of Hot Wheels cars, online multiplayer, local split screen, a surprisingly robust livery, track creator and more. Seriously, if you are or ever were a fan of Hot Wheels toys, then you should do yourself a favor and check this out.

Hot Wheels Unleashed is certainly geared at all ages, so while definitely something that young children can enjoy, as a middle-aged adult, I also dug the fun, drift-heavy racing gameplay, and the collect-a-thon aspect to gathering the large variety of unlockable cars pulled from different real-life Hot Wheels series. The cars are extremely well rendered versions of the actual toys, including some cool licensed properties, with plenty of additional DLC available down the road. Even without the DLC there?s a whole lot to unlock and mess with, and the livery options are expansive, allowing you to customize colors, textures, paint types, stickers and more, and then upload those creations for the community to check out and use. Cars also have a variety of stats, with some cars offering the ability to be upgraded further.

As mentioned above, Hot Wheels Unleashed is very much an arcade racer. You?ll face off against 11 other opponents when playing online or through the campaign, across a small selection of racing events (mostly time trials, circuit races, and sprints) but with a fairly large selection of tracks and the ability to create and upload your own tracks as well. There?s a big emphasis on drifting around corners when racing, which feels fantastic, and allows you to build up your boost meter so you can drill past opponents on the straightaways. There are also a few obstacles along the way, like barricades or animated structures like a spider that?ll toss sticky webs along the track. There are also boost strips and pads, magnetic sections of the track, gravity defying leaps, alternate pathways and more. The track variety is certainly one of the highlights here, along with the excellent controls.

Online play is fun, but the options at the moment are fairly basic. You can set up private lobbies for you and your friends, which allow you to toggle a small number of options like collisions and track voting. There are pre-made tracks available, along with community tracks as well. Unfortunately there doesn?t seem to be a way to manually search for lobbies, which in turn will lead to you getting dumped into a group that?s already in the middle of a long race, forcing you to either sit and wait or back out and try again. I?d also like to see more options in general, including the ability to weed out certain custom track types, in particular the short basic ones people are currently using to grind in-game currency. On the plus side, I had no real issues with online play so far on an Xbox Series X, joining games has been pretty flawless, with no notable instances of lag or disconnects. 

The campaign mode is also pretty fun, with branching pathways for different events, lots of unique backdrop environments for tracks, some cool concepts with boss battle events, secret tiles to uncover, additional cars to unlock upon race completion, and lots of currency to gain which allows you to purchase more blind boxes to earn cars and upgrade material to boost their stats. All the in-game currency is in-game only, meaning you?re not buying currency in order to purchase blind boxes, but there is DLC available if you?re looking to purchase specific vehicles or DLC packs that?ll contain other items. It?s certainly not the worst design out there when it comes to games that utilize blind boxes, and you earn currency through the campaign or by completing online races at a rate that feels pretty rare. You can also sell cards for currency too, useful for when you obtain duplicates. Also, there?s on option to purchase vehicles outright with in-game currency that rotates between available cars pretty often. 

I was absolutely impressed by how much of a full-fledged racing game Hot Wheels Unleashed is. It?s right at home with some of the better arcade racers on the market today, and offers up a whole lot of fun for the whole family, regardless of whether you?re a Hot Wheels fan or not. The track customization is pretty solid, with a decent enough opening tutorial to get you started, and the sheer number of vehicles you can obtain right out of the gate is pretty impressive. The multiplayer could use a bit more fleshing out, but at least works great, and the game controls fantastically overall. If you?ve been in the mood for a new racing experience that everyone can enjoy, then look no further than Hot Wheels Unleashed.

Grade: A-